The top four books that should be on every English language teacher’s bookshelf, 50+ books broken down by every language subskill you’ll want to master, and 17 modern English course books to level up your classroom.
When I did the CELTA course at International House Mexico, I collected lots of book recommendations for ESL/EFL teachers from my CELTA tutors. I’ve carefully categorized these recommendations below and pulled out the top four books that every English language teacher should consider.
Scanned PDFs of these books can be downloaded from Z-Library (if that’s your thing) or purchased from Amazon and others.
- The 4 Best ESL Teaching Books
- Books on English Teaching Methodology & Practice
- Books on Specific Language Skills
- Includes grammar, reading, writing, listening, speaking, pronunciation, punctuation, and vocabulary
- Course Books for Adult Learners
The 4 Best ESL Teaching Books
Here are some of the best books that are useful for any new English language teacher. One is on language awareness (a great grammar book), two are on language teaching methodology (both are popular books from leading experts—consider getting one or the other), and the fourth book I personally found fascinating and unique.
Grammar for English Language Teachers (Link)
- Author: Martin Parrott; 479 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2nd edition (2010)
- Rating: Amazon ★★★★★ (4.6), Goodreads ★★★★ (4.1)
Most of us starting out with English language teaching are scared of grammar. As native speakers we often only understand the advanced stuff intuitively, and can’t always give clear explanations of the finer details. If that’s you, this book will be your best friend, since it explains everything you need for teaching in great detail.
This is an extremely thorough look at English grammar. And since it’s written for English language teachers, it includes sections on typical problems learners might face as well as classroom activities.
Note that Grammar for English Language Teachers follows British English rules. The grammar differences across British and American English aren’t usually a major issue, but if this is a concern for you, consider Grammar for Teachers: A Guide to American English for Native and Non-Native Speakers, 2nd Edition by A. DeCapua.
Learning Teaching: The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching (Link)
- Author: Jim Scrivener; 416 pages
- Publisher: Macmillan; 3rd edition (2011)
- Rating: Amazon ★★★★★ (4.6), Goodreads ★★★★ (4.3)
This is among the most popular guides to teaching English, and it’s one of two top methodology books you’ll find on every CELTA recommended reading list. Scrivener covers all the practical information you’ll need to begin your journey as an English teacher. The book also has many examples of activities that can be used in EFL/ESL classrooms.
The accompanying DVD includes a full lesson being taught, demonstrations of teaching techniques, and photocopiable activity worksheets.
The Practice of English Language Teaching (Link)
- Author: Jeremy Harmer; 446 pages
- Publisher: Pearson; 5th edition (2015)
- Rating: Amazon ★★★★★ (4.6), Goodreads ★★★★ (4.0)
This bible of English language teaching first came out nearly 40 years ago. Now in its 5th edition, it’s the other classic textbook on ELT methodology that you’ll find on every CELTA recommended reading list. It’s good for teachers who are just starting and it’s also a great reference for veteran instructors.
The accompanying DVD includes classroom videos of experienced teachers in the UK, Mexico, and Turkey.
Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems (Link)
- Authors: Michael Swan and Bernard Smith; 378 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2nd edition (2001)
- Rating: Amazon ★★★★★ (4.7), Goodreads ★★★★ (4.2)
This is a fascinating look at issues people from various backgrounds will typically struggle with when learning English, including differences in sounds, grammar, and more that are likely to trip them up. Nothing else on the subject is as comprehensive and useful.
Each chapter focuses on a different language or language family, and goes into great depth. Following are the included chapters:
- Dutch speakers
- Speakers of Scandinavian languages1
- German speakers
- French speakers
- Italian speakers
- Speakers of Spanish and Catalan
- Portuguese speakers
- Greek speakers
- Russian speakers
- Polish speakers
- Farsi speakers
- Arabic speakers
- Turkish speakers
- Speakers of South Asian languages2
- Speakers of Dravidian languages3
- Speakers of West African languages4
- Swahili speakers
- Malay/Indonesian speakers
- Japanese speakers
- Chinese speakers
- Korean speakers
- Thai speakers
1 These are Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
2 Covers numerous Indo-Aryan languages from the Indian subcontinent.
3 Covers Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Telugu.
4 The book’s analysis especially applies to people from Nigeria and Ghana.
I highly recommend this book. If you’re a language nerd you might read all the chapters. Otherwise, you’ll still get plenty of value if you read only the one or two chapters most relevant to your English students and the issues they’re likely to face.
Although not as comprehensive, this website by T. Power includes common English pronunciation mistakes by language background. Part two of the book Teaching English Pronunciation by J. Kenworthy also includes similar material.
Want Even More?
Like, a lot more?
If you’re looking for something more specific, check out the listings below. All of the following books have been recommended by CELTA tutors. I’ve categorized them by their topics and the skills they aim to help you teach. In every case, I’ve listed their latest editions.
For all of these, I’ve included links to Amazon. If the book is unavailable or overpriced on Amazon, try searching on BEBC. They’re a specialist bookseller of English language teaching materials. You can enter the code IH25 on their site to get a 25% discount.
Books marked with ⭐ were highlighted earlier in this post. Those marked 😎 weren’t highlighted above but are popular bestsellers with more than 200 reviews on Amazon.
Books on English Teaching Methodology & Practice
- About Language: Tasks for Teachers of English, 2nd Edition by S. Thornbury
- Beyond the Sentence: Introducing Discourse Analysis, by S. Thornbury
- Concept Questions and Time Lines, 2nd Edition by G. Workman
- Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know, by R. Oxford
- ⭐ Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems, 2nd Edition by M. Swan & B. Smith
- ⭐ Learning Teaching: The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching, 3rd Edition by J. Scrivener
- Planning Lessons and Courses: Designing Sequences of Work for the Language Classroom, by T. Woodward
- 😎 Practical English Usage, 4th Edition by M. Swan
- ⭐ The Practice of English Language Teaching, 5th Edition by J. Harmer
- Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms, by J. Richards & C. Lockhart
Books on Specific Language Skills
These include books that aim to improve your ability to teach each of the language skills below, as well as books that will directly help you with teaching (e.g., activity books).
- The English Verb: An Exploration of Structure and Meaning, by M. Lewis
- Grammar Dictation, by R. Wajnryb
- ⭐ Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2nd Edition by M. Parrott
- ⭐ Grammar for Teachers: A Guide to American English for Native and Non-Native Speakers, 2nd Edition by A. DeCapua
- Grammar, by S. Thornbury
- How to Teach Grammar, by S. Thornbury
- 😎 Teaching English Grammar, by J. Scrivener
- Teaching Tenses: Ideas for Presenting and Practising Tenses in English, by R. Aitken
- Games for Grammar Practice, by M. Zaorob & E. Chin
- The Grammar Activity Book: A Resource Book of Grammar Games for Young Students, by B. Obee
- Grammar Games and Activities for Teachers, by P. Watcyn-Jones
- Grammar Games: Cognitive, Affective and Drama Activities for EFL Students, Revised Edition by M. Rinvolucri
- 😎 English Grammar in Use: A Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Learners of English, 5th Edition by R. Murphy
- Additional books in this series: Essential Grammar in Use, Advanced Grammar in Use, and Basic Grammar in Use.
- Grammar Practice for Intermediate Students, 3rd Edition by E. Walker & S. Elsworth
- Additional books in this series: Grammar Practice for Elementary Students, for Pre-Intermediate Students, and for Upper-Intermediate Students.
- Reading Extra: A Resource Book of Multi-Level Skills Activities, by L. Driscoll
- Reading in a Second Language: Moving from Theory to Practice, by W. Grabe
- Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language, 3rd Edition by C. Nuttall
- Techniques and Resources in Teaching Reading, by S. Silberstein
- How to Teach Writing, by J. Harmer
- Teaching Writing Skills, New Edition by D. Byrne
- Writing Extra: A Resource Book of Multi-Level Skills Activities, by G. Palmer
- Writing, 2nd Edition by T. Hedge
- How to Teach Listening, by JJ Wilson
- Listening, by G. White
- Teaching Listening Comprehension, by P. Ur
- Discussions A-Z Advanced: A Resource Book of Speaking Activities, by A. Wallwork
- How to Teach Speaking, by S. Thornbury
- Pair Work 1: Elementary–Pre-Intermediate, New Edition by P. Watcyn-Jones & D. Howard-Williams
- Speaking Extra: A Resource Book of Multi-Level Skills Activities, by M. Gammidge
- Teamwork: Interactive Tasks to Get Students Talking, by J. Anderson
- English Pronunciation in Use, Intermediate, 2nd Edition by M. Hancock
- Additional books in this series: Elementary and Advanced.
- How to Teach Pronunciation, by G. Kelly
- Pronunciation Practice Activities, by M. Hewings
- Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation, 2nd Edition by A. Underhill
- Teaching English Pronunciation, by J. Kenworthy
- 😎 English Vocabulary in Use, Upper-Intermediate, 4th Edition by M. McCarthy & F. O’Dell
- Additional books in this series: Elementary, Pre-Intermediate & Intermediate, and Advanced.
- Related series by the same authors (each is available in Intermediate or Advanced):
- How to Teach Vocabulary, by S. Thornbury
Course Books for Adult Learners
The two coursebooks I used during CELTA training were face2face and Cutting Edge. Both are popular British English courses for adult learners, and both cover A1–C1 English proficiency levels in six separate books (starter, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate, and advanced).
You can buy individual books from these series on Amazon, etc., but if you’re not yet sure what you need, it might be easier to start at the publishers’ websites (which I’ve linked to below) since modern course books come with student’s books, workbooks, and teacher’s books (along with bundled audio, software, etc.) across many proficiency levels.
Following are the top course books you should consider for British and American English. All of them come from the big four publishers of English language course books: Pearson, Macmillan, Oxford University Press, and Cambridge University Press.
Elsewhere, you’ll sometimes see names like New Cutting Edge instead of Cutting Edge, or New English File instead of English File. These were 2nd editions that were predecessors of the newer versions I’ve listed above.
Hopefully this helps you find the perfect books to up your English teaching game.
What books have helped you most in your own English teaching career? What coursebooks have you used in your classrooms, and were they any good? If you have favorites that aren’t on this list, let me know!
Planning to take a CELTA course? Want a top grade? If so, check out my CELTA Pass A example assignments and lesson plans.